Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge

…surely our spirit can survive an overdose or two of misguided notions and questionable taste, and still come out blazing in the end.

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Bourbon was a fun roller-coaster ride following bourbon’s rise and fall amidst the great social changes that influenced America. Huckelbridge tied bourbon closely with American movements such as frontier times, wild west, prohibition, the great depression, post-WWII and the most recent movement for artisanal, back to the roots products. Huckelbridge set out to use bourbon as a metaphor for changing values and world orders, he succeeded admirably, however, I would have liked more citations. I want to know how much of the information is conjecture and what is fact. He shares his bibliography but that’s not enough for my academic soul. I want citations or notes, and I want to know what information came from which source. I don’t doubt his information or his take on it, but there were a few times when I felt a little lost because I didn’t know where he pulled the information from and I wanted to either verify it or read about it myself.

Huckelbridge’s writing style is not for everyone. Its very gung-ho, and is definitely not the dry style usually associated with nonfiction writing or history. However, I enjoyed it immensely. It was different, energetic, enthusiastic and conveyed a passion about the subject that many similar writers lack. His riding made it easy to read and easy to get involved with following bourbon’s journey through American history. Here is a snippet of his writing style that falls somewhere on the more overzealous end of the writing scale:

Want to hear more? There’s a blind tiger just down the alley where you can dip the bill with some real tomatoes. Put on your glad rags and pack some iron, ’cause this ain’t no common gin mill. There’s a reason they call them the Roaring Twenties, and illegal bourbon – known as “corn” down at the speakeasy – is going to provide much of their gusto.

I learned a lot from this fun book and not just about bourbon. I’m not a huge bourbon drinker but found the topic interesting since bourbon is an American grown drink and its history is apparently closely tied with westward expansion, the industrial boom of the post war years. The only thing I’m still not clear about is, bourbon is a type of whiskey but not all whiskeys are bourbon and still Huckelbridge used the terms almost interchangeably, this could very well be a book about American whiskey instead of just bourbon.


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